BJP Now Plays Caste Card

 
by Nilofar Suhrawardy - Courtesy Arab News

 

As the general election in the world’s biggest democracy is just weeks away, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is finally addressing the issues facing the Indian women and the minorities. These efforts are seen no more than political gimmicks, as on the ground the party’s track record on these issues is not very encouraging.

 

On the International Women’s Day (March 8), the BJP’s electoral face and prime-ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, tried to interact with the womenfolk across the country through video-conferencing. It was nothing more than the traditional lip service as he stopped short of committing himself to ensuring women greater representation in his own party and in the Parliament. Similarly, while Modi has tried sharing stage with several Muslim leaders, he and his party have been fairly quiet on development plans that they can implement for the benefit of this community and other religious minorities.

 

On the contrary, recent developments indicate that the BJP is attaching great importance to using the caste card in its political manipulation in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar. For a greater part of its political history, Hindus of the upper castes have dominated BJP. The BJP is confident of winning support of upper-caste Hindus, who form around 20.5 percent of the population in UP and 13 percent in Bihar. The party has, however, realized that without the support of the backward classes, scheduled castes and other segments of the Indian society, prospects of it faring well from UP and Bihar are limited.

 

Dalits, referred to as scheduled castes, form around 16.6 percent of India’s population. UP has 20.5 percent of their population, while Bihar has 8.2 percent. Statistically, Dalit population is greater than that of Muslims, which is around 13.4 percent. Even if Muslim population were equal or marginally more than that of Dalits, political manipulation would have probably still prompted the BJP to try using the caste card.

 

The BJP is aware that without weakening the political base of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Mayawati, a popular Dalit leader, it may not be possible for it to make significant gains in UP. Prospects of the BSP considering an alliance with the BJP may be ruled out. Mayawati does not want to lose support of Muslims in UP because of a political handshake with the BJP. Mayawati is also conscious that Muslims have considerably lost faith in Samajwadi Party (SP), which heads the current UP government. Mayawati has served as UP chief minister for four terms, the last being from 2007 to 2012. The BSP lost 2012 UP polls to SP, following which Mayawati resigned and was subsequently elected to Rajya Sabha.

 

In the outgoing Lok Sabha, from UP, compared to Congress, SP and BSP being represented by more than 20 members each, only 10 are from the BJP. By using the caste card, the BJP hopes to gain on losses of its key rivals in UP, particularly the BSP. It is with this intention that the BJP has recently admitted a Dalit leader, Udit Raj, into its party with much fanfare. Earlier, for about a decade Raj headed the Indian Justice Party. The party does not have a single member in Lok Sabha. Now, Raj is a member of BJP’s National Executive Committee.


The BJP is hopeful that Raj’s inclusion in its ranks will help it secure Dalit votes from UP. Raj’s political following in UP is less than a percent. Before joining the BJP, he tried to convince BSP’s rivals in UP, that his support will help them gain support of Dalits. Except for the BJP, others virtually ignored Raj’s claims.

 

Similarly, the BJP is elated about its alliance with the Bihar-based Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), headed by Ram Vilas Paswan. The BJP expects Paswan’s Dalit background to help it gain votes in Bihar. Yet, limited importance held by LJP in Bihar cannot be ignored. The party does not have any legislator in the outgoing Lok Sabha. Paswan himself lost 2009 Lok Sabha polls for the first time in 33 years. Currently, Paswan is a member of the Rajya Sabha.


The hype created about BJP’s possible victory has probably prompted Paswan and Raj to turn toward this party. The two are apparently hopeful that riding atop this political tide will prove beneficial for them too. Their gain will rest on Dalits’ decision in UP to move away from BSP and in Bihar to turn toward Paswan. However, their proximity with the BJP is likely to have a negative impact on their friendship with Muslims. Had they been confident of succeeding on their own, they would not have taken this step. This also implies that by welcoming them, the BJP is gambling on using the Dalit card.

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